RELAXED Kevin Sinfield will try help Leeds Rhinos retain the Challenge Cup in his final Wembley appearance next week - but admits being so “haunted” by painful past experiences in the competition that he once thought it would be better t0 simply get knocked out at the first hurdle.
Sinfield, who also reveals he has taken a pay-cut to join rugby union sister club Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of the season, famously led the Super League giants to that previously elusive Challenge Cup success against Castleford Tigers 12 months ago having lost all five final appearances before.
Having won everything else there is to win in the club game, including six Grand Finals and three World Club Challenges, it understandably proved a “relief” to get the “monkey off the back” for the former England captain.
Now, building up to the prospect of facing Hull KR on Saturday, the outlook is so different but Sinfield, 34, conceded: “There’s been a few moments in this competition that have haunted me.
“You grow to deal with certain things though and I’ve dealt with everything it’s thrown at me now.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason and there’s been some tough times in this competition.
“To come through all those you walk away thinking whether you want to go through it all again - and question whether it’s easier to go out in an earlier round to avoid the pain of losing at Wembley.
“Getting that last year was all about persevering and not giving up and we got to taste what it’s like to win the Challenge Cup.
“I’d stopped thinking about what it would be like to win. In your first couple of finals you think about it and how lucky you’d be, but I got to the stage where I just decided to forget about it and not worry about it too much.
“I just wanted to experience winning so much and get the feeling of being vindicated and satisfied; those moments are very difficult to come by in your career.”
There is, of course, scope for Sinfield to round off his illustrious rugby league career with a “treble”, something which is unprecedented for the club at which the prolific stand-off has dedicated his entire 19 seasons of service.
Leeds took a step closer to the League Leaders’ Shield on Friday night when Sinfield, with his customary leadership, steered a youthful side missing various rested regulars to a 36-22 win at Hull FC that leaves them four points clear of nearest challengers Wigan Warriors with as many games to go.
He added: “This next little period of my career and life can be really good and really exciting.
“I’m aware of the opportunities available over the next two months with the Rhinos and we’ve never been in this position before.
“But I know how focused I need to be going forward through this period in these last two months.
“But beyond that the challenge of playing another sport - not a lot of people get the chance to play two professional sports, and I feel very fortunate to have that opportunity.
“The group Carnegie have put together is a group that have a lot of hunger and are desperate to get promotion.
“So am I; I don’t want to finish my career playing Championship rugby, I want to play in the Premiership with Yorkshire Carnegie and that’s a huge motivation for me.”
Sinfield insists he is not “quitting” rugby league, the game that his services to provided him with an MBE last year and one in which he won the Golden Boot as the world’s best player in 2012.
“I think quitting is a bit strong,” he said.
“I’ve given 20 years of my life to the game and it doesn’t owe me anything.
“I’ve had so much fun and happiness out of it and a great career, but I think quitting is too strong a word.
“I just felt it was the right opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do at the right time.
“There were a lot of factors in it but to walk away from a club like this isn’t done easily believe me.
“Next year would have been my 20th season and it’s so tough to walk away from something I’ve put so much into and got so much out of it.
“But if I didn’t do it next year I don’t think I’d get another chance.
“I didn’t want to be 40 or 45 and reflecting and kicking myself that I didn’t have a go. “My love for rugby league and the Rhinos will never change - I’ll be here (at Headingley) most Friday’s when they’re playing - but it was just the right time.”
He says there are some ardent Leeds fans, including his youngest son Sam, who still struggle to comprehend his decision.
“There was one the other week after a game,” continued Sinfield, who sets a new record for most Challenge Cup final captaincies on Saturday, his seventh such outing seeing him eclipse the great Eric Ashton who amassed six with Wigan between 1958 and 1966.
“I went in one of the bars and someone came up for a photograph and asked me why I was going?
“I explained it and they said ‘It’s just a pension fund for you’ and walked off!
“I had to grab them and pull them back and say they were miles off.
“I can honestly say I’ve gone for less money than what I’d have been on at Leeds - it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.
“Trying to explain it to my kids… my eldest understood it but trying to explain to a seven-year-old who has finally fallen in love with the Rhinos and he doesn’t get it, that was tough.
“They know I’m still playing rugby and they wonder why I won’t be at the Rhinos.”